With attention focused on other aspects of immigration reform, the federal government has gone on a massive immigrant prison building spree, reports the Texas Observer. Since 1999, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has contracted for the operation of 13 for-profit private prisons located mostly in isolated towns far from the prying eyes of activists, prisoner's families or attorneys. Five are in Texas. Run by three private companies, these 13 “criminal alien requirement” prisons, as BOP calls them, house one of the fastest-growing prison populations: immigrants in federal custody, many convicted for the crime of illegally crossing the border.
The 13 facilities house more than 25,000 immigrant prisoners at a cost estimated at $1 billion a year. The private immigrant prisons, filled mostly with low-security inmates, have been rocked by riots and allegations of inadequate medical care. The private prisons exist in legal shadows, unanswerable to many federal policies and protected by laws that exempt them from open-records requirements. The American Civil Liberties Union says BOP shields contractors from disclosing information, claiming “trade secrets” in response to public information requests. In a new report on the five Texas prisons, the ACLU claims that the BOP policies discriminate against non-citizen inmates and that prisoners are “subjected to shocking abuse and mistreatment.”